No Fences

The winter crawls at the speed of smell when you are a kinetic farmer like I am. Lots of time is spent reminiscing of days gone with my grandpa in his pick up. I love to ask him to paint a picture of how a particular field looked like 50 or 60 years ago when he was an engaged young farmer. The 100 acre field that he is describing used to be 10 or 15 smaller fields with barns, chicken houses, and pasture. It produced the bacon, the eggs, and the toast.

By 1990 no fences wasn’t just the #1 selling country album. It was the landscape of the country side. You could literally watch your dog run away for days. I was 10 years old, and I was just tall enough to reach the clutch on our IH 3588 so dad put me to work working the dirt. I just missed the plow days by a few years, but I witnessed thousands of hours watching my dad turn over the dirt through the dirty glass. My dad had worked his adult years to that point removing every fence post on our 3000 acre farm. We thought we were getting more and more efficient with every 300 acre mega field we created.

What has manifested over the past 50 or 60 years under the radar is a gradual loss of our independence. With each and every new ag technology, convenience we implement we break away and float further and further away from control of our own destiny. The suppliers of our inputs have teams devoted to price elasticity of demand, and what they have been able to do is leverage the fact that we must have their products in order to produce a crop.

The casualty in all of this has been soil heath. When we tore down our fences. Our grain once gave us bacon, eggs, and the manure for our garden. It now gives us a liquid asset, cash. We use it to buy bigger tractors, planters, vacations and the fertilizer necessary to grow another crop. We have treated the soil as a medium to hold fertilizer in order to grow corn and soybeans instead of the foundation of the next generation.

Livestock has become consolidated to just a handful of farms in each county. Thousands of head under one roof. Barn after barn on the same farm. My farm produces 25000 300lb pigs to market annually. It takes 5000 acres on a good year to feed these pigs. Thats 5000 acres of grain that extracts copious amounts of Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus, and Sulfur from local farmers.

Over 80% of our tillable acres in this country feed livestock, however only 4% of our acres have manure applied to them. These acres for the most part do not revolve. The result is a dead end road.

We need to reach a compromise heading into the future. Were not going to resserect our fences, and we dont have enough ground to have livestock grazing everywhere. We need closed loop systems that efficiently utilize every drip drop of manure, every drip drop of sunshine. Find ways to fight fire with fire because one day the well will run dry.

Our focus needs to shift. This race to produce more through tillage, commercial fertilizer, herbicide resistant technology, and economies of scale is just inflating the bubble. When it pops in not only will collapse upon highly leveraged operations, but the productivity of our soil. The lifeblood of our future.